Passion and flair for food at The Lord Nelson
Temple Restaurant Review - TEMPLE Magazine 2017
Mosta is a beautiful, bustling, character town in the middle of Malta and en route to everywhere else. Originally Mosta was famous for its Rotunda - Ir rotunda ta Mosta - dedicated to the Roman Catholic Assumption of Mary, architecturally based on the Pantheon in Rome and possibly having the third largest unsupported dome in the world. Bearing in mind this was built in the 1860s by local craftsman and builders, one can appreciate that this is no mean feat.
Regardless, the Church's miraculous properties are reinforced by its history in WWII when three bombs were dropped: two missed and failed to explode and one, which pierced the dome and was dangling from the rotunda - under which were 300 people attending Mass - was deactivated by the Royal Engineers and dumped off shore. A replica bomb is in the Sacristy with an inscription reading 'Il Miraklu ta Bomba 9 ta' April 1942'. fans of Richard Dawkins may prefer to believe in the poor workmanship of the munitions factory or the skill of the Bomb Disposal Unit, the church is still standing in the centre of Mosta and welcomes visitor and worshipper alike. Meanwhile another ‘miracle’ in Mosta is set a little further along Triq il Kbira at Number 280.
Set on a large plot between two pretty streets is The Lord Nelson Restaurant. Formerly a prestigious townhouse, The Lord Nelson today - an elegant, discreet and classical Maltese property complete with shutters, double doors and a balcony - is fine dining at its best. Stepping inside the Lord Nelson feels more like going into a very smart house or club. The ground floor is spacious, cool and dim after the searing July sunlight and just wafts elegance and comfort.
Tables and chairs are spaced for the diner's comfort and the differing sizes of windows and French doors from one side to the other offers a restful play of light.
The design and decor of the ground floor is subtle sophistication; polished cutlery, pristine white linen and wooden flooring meet Maltese stone, rococo wallpaper and a very well stocked 'cave' that deserves serious attention.
A gleaming stone staircase leads to the first floor which divides into an intimate salon on the right and a larger dining room to the left with high ceilings, a dazzling crystal chandelier and a romantic or private balcony for two looking out to the main square and the church.
Mme Coco Chanel allegedly said, 'Luxury must be comfortable otherwise it is not luxury' and The Lord Nelson owners understand this principle. Talking to patron Etienne Farrugia certainly reinforces this belief. Etienne's career to date is in hospitality and retail and he has an instinctive but highly professional approach. He begins by telling me how much the restaurants of Malta have improved over the last ten years. The long-term Italian influence on food in Malta has always been a blessing. With exquisite tact, he moves from the less than exciting early British influences on Maltese restaurants on to Modern British Food - its style, taste and texture as made famous by Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay - and subsequently the impact of so many different opportunities for Maltese chefs especially since joining the EU with the resultant uptick in other EU Nationals moving to Malta.
Etienne used to dine out regularly and finding good establishments that continuously kept to standard was difficult - until he found the Lord Nelson Restaurant. To paraphrase an American entrepreneur, Etienne liked the Lord Nelson Restaurant so much, he bought it. He already knew exactly how he wanted it to work for the new diners without alienating the original customers: the removal of a cumbersome bar and the design and build of the wine 'cave' were first on his schedule. Other improvements included lighting, softening the decor to impact on noise levels and improvements in the partially open view kitchen - which incidentally is possibly the most spotless kitchen we have ever seen and we have seen a lot.
But whilst good design and lighting and comfortable chairs help make dining out a pleasure what makes it an experience is the food and the service.
'Passion for what you do is key. It doesn't matter what the "do" is', Etienne tells me. 'It's how much you care about doing it'. And Etienne cares; the food must be fresh and the best available, it must be seasonable. The staff must be knowledgeable and able to advise. Service must be efficient, discreet, impeccable.
'Malta is on the up' says Etienne.' New restaurants, shops, businesses are opening all the time and I welcome this. Maltese people are returning with new skills and ideas which we must use for the good of all of us'.
What we ate.
Amuse Bouche:. A lovely touch to whet your appetite without detracting from it and to showcase the chef’s style. We were given Ruccola foam, grated fresh Parmesan and beef carpaccio. Three distinct layers of light, teasing and zinging flavours from the fresh delicately flavoured foam, salty Parmesan and sweet beef - delicious - and the anticipation of what is to come achieved!
Bread- in house baked and served with truffle butter - Maltese bread is always very good and this was best in class. A mix of Maltese and seeded brown rolls. The butter was delicious. creamy, salty with a big kick of smooth earthy truffle essence to finish.
Starter: Lobster and Crab ‘cannelloni’ with a prawn consommé , pickled celeriac, tuna bottarga (tuna eggs/roe) and edible flowers.
Cannelloni automatically makes one think of pasta but this fabulous dish eschews it in favour of mandolined and lightly roasted courgette in its place. Thus dinner not just healthier and kinder to your waistline but allows the beautiful, freshly caught lobster and crab flavours to stand out individually whilst working together in culinary harmony. Crab and lobster were mixed with an incredibly deep creamy mousse of scallops and local fish. The prawn consommé was crystal clear, rich in flavour and served separately. The Celeriac pureé was luscious:; smooth and earthy, dressed with a fresh mint dressing and a scattering of yellow courgettes flowers for a perfect finish.
Main Course: Brown Meagre with pickled rhubarb and beetroot.
Meagre is a Mediterranean fish and something of a house speciality at The Lord Nelson. Poached in butter then finished with a blow torch. The fish was perfectly cooked and could be cut with a fork whilst retaining its firmness.
The light but meaty texture was enhanced by an elegantly delicious pureé of dark pink beetroot and light pink rhubarb. This was served as a geometrically perfect ‘spoon drag’ and beautifully colour co-ordinated and pleasing to the eye. The final layer was an artful balancing act of julienned rhubarb and beetroot and a crispy Japanese influenced salty cracker: everything about this dish was impressive from its appearance and distinction of each flavour and aroma, to the incredible combination of tastes working together.
Pudding:: 3 x melon: cantaloupe, winter melon and water melon served with fresh lime crème fraiche, and home-baked (to order) madeleines .
Madeleines have such history thanks to Proust and his childhood memories It’s a brave chef who can take on such a nostalgic gem but the team at The Lord Nelson have no qualms and nor need they.
Baked to order – so a little patience is required (as politely requested on the menu) and served piping hot from the oven - and the buttery fresh-baked smell was welcomed by guests in the restaurant– a . Truly mouth watering with perfect lemon zest and lemon juice permeated throughout they were amazingly good.
The trio of melons were sweet and juicy and a riot of summer colours. Beautifully shaped glistening spheres served with drops of lime crème frâiche was subtle but produced another sharper taste dimension to the dish to complement the melon beautifully. The finishing touch of scattered candied lemon peel provided a a refreshing citrus tang. Three sugared macadamia nuts gave crunch and texture to this lovely dessert.
The Lord Nelson are producing food as fine as any found in the culinary capitals of the world. Remember that first Michelin star for Malta? Well, you really did read it here first.
The Lord Nelson Restaurant
280 Triq Il-Kbira
00356 7943 2590
Published TEMPLE Magazine 2018
Copyright: Temple Concierge Ltd.
Images Copyright: TEMPLE Magazine and The Lord Nelson